For some time - in fact ever since 1996 or so, when I joined (in all my wide-eyed, snotnosed innocence) the "Buffalo Poetics" discussion list - Mr. Ron Silliman's writings on poetry have provided a foil for my own burblings in that vein. In my present circumstances (beleaguered, solitary poet day-jobber), such remains the case.

So today, I note the obsessive RS focus on the oscillating movements & scintillating impressions of literary schools & groups. The first chapter of Clarence Brown's study, Mandelstam, offers an antidote to this kind of lateral-horizontal attention. Schools & literary polemics make up only the preliminaries & practice steps of a vocation in poetry. Its fulfillment involves a much more individuated, laborious growth.

This is not an argument for super-individualism. Rather, it is a different notion of tradition. American poetic journalism & polemics has a flatland, one-dimensional quality to it : as if it's all a matter of rival groups and theories jostling for supremacy, with a few pathetic loners out there, squeaking their eccentric solos. I find this attitude faintly bullying & obtuse. You have to be part of a group, a movement, or you're... you're weak.

There's another way of thinking about tradition. It's a perspective obscured by the partisan dualities proffered by the groups. It's Tradition with a capital T : the tradition of great poetry. When you read the great old poetry, starting with Homer & the Bible perhaps, you begin to train your ears to the fine intensity & power of the same that followed - which appears in many times & places, and among our near-contemporaries (& perhaps even some of our contemporaries). You begin to recognize the conscious apprenticeship of the great masters of poetry, when they begin to achieve the level of synthesis & expressive power which equals or surpasses their models. I heard it in Yeats just the other day. I hear it in Marvell, in John Donne. (You can find, of course, your own examples.)

The literary-artistic turmoil of the day is just one element among many of the basic building materials which the great poet must shape & refine.

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